What About Blended Families?
We’ve recently remarried after the failure of our first marriages? How can we successfully blend our two families into one?
Are you going to preach on what happens when your step-father brings his son home to live in your family?
I’m not certain whether it was the trace of a tear down her cheek, or the soft quiet voice of the nine-year-old child standing beside me. I had just preached on Biblical family relationships and was moving toward the side door to greet guests. Suddenly, ever so softly, I heard her call “Pastor Roger”. I looked down to the little child standing beside me. I bent low to hear her say, “Are you going to preach on what happens when your step-father brings his son home to live in your family?” There was pain in her eyes.
“Has your step-father brought his son home to your house?” I asked.
“And it’s not going very well, is it?”
The next Sunday I preached about blended families. The term “blended family” is the label for the home that is putting two families together. Perhaps a more correct title would be “blending families”. Blending marriages is an ongoing process. The child standing beside me represented millions of Americans who’ve gone through the trauma of a broken family—and are now being blended into another one.
Unfortunately, not all families work out well. In Ephesians five and Genesis two God outlined His plan for successful marriages. We might summarize His model succinctly: “God’s plan is for one man and one woman to become best friends and partners for a lifetime.”
Robert Redford, the famous actor from days gone by, was asked what makes a great lover. He shocked all by not giving the expected macho man answer. He answered, “A great lover is a man who can satisfy one woman for her entire lifetime and she does the same for him. Love is not running around from woman to woman. Any dog can do that!”
Blending families is difficult but not impossible. I know that the task is difficult because I can find not one successful bleeding of families in the Bible.
Abraham tried to blend Sarah and Isaac with Hagar and Ishmael and finally threw Hagar and Ishmael out of the house (Genesis 21).
Jacob tried to blend 4 families with disastrous results (Genesis 29-38ff)
First wife Leah and her children Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Dinah;
Second wife Rachael and her children Joseph and Benjamin;
Concubine Bilah and her children Dan and Naphtali;
Concubine Zilpah and her children Gad and Asher.
Jacob’s family was destroyed by jealousy, murder, rape, deceit, and favoritism.
David began with first wife Michael and married perhaps as many as twenty-eight more. His last wife was the infamous Bathsheba. There were numerous concubines in between. At least ten sons are named in scripture. In addition he had “more sons and daughters born to him”. You would not want to live in the king’s family. He was blending about 30 more families than he had time for. Among his children we read of murder, rape, rebellion, incest, hatred, bitterness and anger (2 Samuel 8-18; 1 Kings 1-2).
Solomon’s proverbs contain many, many impassioned pleas to have only one wife! In fact at the end of his life he advised us to “rejoice with the wife of our youth” (Proverb 5:18). He had 70 wives and 300 concubines. Looking back, the multiple families he created were more trouble than it was worth. In addition, He grew up in a blended family. He didn’t want anyone else to have to go through what he went through.”
God and Solomon were on the same page when they both advised, “Make your first marriage work.” One msn in our congregation said: “If I had just worked on my first marriage, I would not have gotten divorced. I’m the same guy in the second marriage that I was in the first marriage. I gave up too easily.”
Nevertheless, when all is said and done, don’t be discouraged. Families can be blended. I know quite a few who have done it successfully even though it doesn’t come naturally–or easily. Everyone I know who succeeded testify that the struggles were worth it!
By the way, the Old Testament practice of marrying multiple wives is known today as bigamy and is against the Law. In America today, don’t miss the fact that bigamy is widespread. We call it “serial polygamy”—we have several husbands or wives over a life time—just not at the same time.
I would like to share a wealth of information I have gathered over the years about successfully blending marriages. Most of the practical advice I know came from the suggestions of Christian speaker, author, and counselor, Craig Massey—much of which is outlined below.
Blended families have two extra stressors that God never intended. First is someone else’s ex. Second is someone else’s child! Stress in blended families is not doubled. It goes up exponentially. Here are some other factors which can hinder successful blending.
1. Finances are often given to more than one family.
2. The blended family is born of loss, failure, hurt, and grief. Everyone needs comforting.
3. Everyone in a blended family has a previous history with ingrained living patterns and already built-in value systems.
4. The parent/child bond predates the married couple. A parent and children from a first marriage form a very tight system. There’s little time for the new couple to bond before they are thrown into the complex role of parent someone else’s children.
5. The individuals often lack good conflict resolution skills.
6. Complex, informal alliances form which often exacerbate quite dysfunctional relationships.
If a step-family is going to fall apart, it usually happens in the first 2 or 3 years. Newly married couples need the most help and support immediately. Unfortunately most blended couples don’t fell the need until it is way too late.
Let me share several suggestions that you may find helpful as you go about the work of successfully blending two families into one.
1. Clarify expectations (Proverbs 3:13-15). It is foolish to think that the blended family members will feel like, or relate to each other like a biological family. It can’t be done. However, it helps when the children can see people decide to work together, love each other, and begin to form new bonds.
2. Mourn the losses (2 Samuel 12:15-25). Everyone grieves the failure of their original family after a divorce or death. Understanding, patience, wisdom, comfort and love are essential for all.
3. Build a team ((Philippians 2:1-2). Help everybody build new alliances, or friendships, while still maintaining their old ones. A unified team is guaranteed to make the best of a difficult situation.
4. Strengthen your marriage (Ephesians 5:21-33). Since the weakest link in the blended family is the marriage relationship, invest deeply into the life of your new spouse. Too often the strain of raising children is too much for a remarried couple. I know of one Christian stepmom said, “It was the children—not my husband—that I wanted to divorce”.
5. Help the children heal (Matthew 18:1-6). Unfortunately, studies reveal that the majority of children whose parents divorce blame themselves for the break ups: “I think that I was born at the wrong time for them, and I caused a lot of problems for them. If I hadn’t been born when I was, I think they would still be together. I should have just acted better when I was little.” Children are not always informed as to what is really happening in their failing families and thus are left to put the pieces together as best they can. Too many children begin to think of themselves as one of the puzzle pieces and assume responsibility for the failure. Many struggle with futile dreams like: “When mom and dad get back together everything will be wonderful.” The second futile dream is that somehow, if they can just figure out how, they can put their parent’s marriage back together again. It takes wisdom to help both dreams dissipate slowly!
6. Work hard at conflict resolution (Matthew 5:25-26). All families have conflicts. My experience is that most blended families aren’t skilled in conflict resolution. This is especially devastating when they are still working through significant trauma and grief
7. Agree on discipline. Discipline is usually a big battleground (Proverb 13:14). “You’re too hard on mine and too easy on yours.” Careful planning is necessary. Develop the same set of rules for all children and enforce them fairly and consistently. The natural parent is in the best position to discipline his or her own children because he or she knows his or her children best.
8. Build a strong relationship with God and other believers (Galatians 6:2). Saturate yourself in Bible study and prayer. Jesus alone understands all your feelings, triumphs and defeats. You will need support, someone in whom you can confide, someone who will listen non-judgmentally, and accept you unconditionally. Step-parenting can be a lonely job. A support group will help fulfill Paul’s admonition in Galatians 6:2 to bear one another’s burdens.
9. Practice agape love and forgiveness (John 13:34-35). Let love—not merely feelings—direct your behavior. An intense feeling of love for step-children may never come; but, that’s okay. Keeping a child’s best interests at heart and acting in loving ways is marvelous parenting. Practice forgiveness. There will be occasions when you will have to learn to forgive your stepchildren, your spouse, your in-laws, his ex, and others.
10. Don’t be in a hurry (Philippians 4:6). Becoming a family takes time. Our society has raised us to believe that we shouldn’t have to wait for anything. If you want it, and can’t afford it, charge it. This kind of thinking often gets in the way of blending two families. For example, I counsel couples who say, “We just don’t think it is going to work with Johnny. We got married a year ago, and he’s not adjusting. We’re thinking about sending him to live with his father. Most of the time that would be a great mistake. One year is hardly even a beginning. Hang in there. Be patient, success takes time.
If you are now in a blending family, my heart goes out to you. I know you have experienced much pain and loss. Life was never designed to be this way and I am so sorry for what has happened to you. Nevertheless, never lose hope. God usually has good days ahead. My prayer is that you will experience them.
Well, Name Unknown, I wrote your answer mostly to the couple trying to blend two families. When they do their job well, your life can once again fill with joy and delight. I pray for you, too.